The International 2017

Can you tell it’s that time of the year?

The grand final of the biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year, sponsored by Valve was today. The lead up to it was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Teams that looked good didn’t do so well. Chinese teams dominated the upper bracket slots for the main event. Games that looked like they were in the bag had huge turnarounds. This year I was flying the Newbee flag, after finding out that Kpii is from Australia.

Since the finals only happened earlier today, I won’t write about them to avoid giving away spoilers, but I think the overall production level of this year’s event was great.

Day[9], who is probably more popular as a Starcraft caster / personality than Dota 2, has been slowly making a transition over, and was asked to host this year’s event. There were a lot of reddit comments complaining about the fact that he isn’t as familiar with all the memes, or even the game itself, as some of the other hosts, but I enjoyed having him as a host. As a change from previous years, they got players from some of the eliminated teams to join the panel, and it was really insightful to hear from them. Despite his lack of some of the finer aspects of the game, Day[9] did a good job of directing the conversation to the players. I imagine some of the questions he asked where pre-scripted by someone else, but the way he managed the flow of the talk was good.

The player / team videos were even more amazing this year. My favourite so far was the video of Virtus Pro doing an escape room. Not only is it really nice to listen to them speaking Russian, but it was funny watching them solve the escape room, and I like how Ramzes calls them old geezers and thinks they’ve failed because the USB doesn’t go in…. but it’s a USB, you have to rotate it at least 3 times! And 9pasha’s comment, “Can we swear now?”, probably a reference to the complaints from VP’s manager that “True Sight” video released after the Kiev major portrayed VP as the “swearing smoking Russians” and OG as the “chill and disciplined Europeans” (link to reddit thread with an English translation).

I think I enjoy this more than the games themselves, as I get to learn a lot about techniques for pulling the heart strings, or making people laugh. I also really enjoy seeing some of the stuff the players do when they’re not playing Dota.

The announcement of Artifact, a new card-game, seemed to have a mixed response. After being sucked into Magic: the Gathering so many times, I’m pretty reluctant to play any new card games. I still haven’t touched Hearthstone, and I’ll probably avoid Artifact, too. I am curious about how they’ll approach it, as they managed to make the best out of all the Dota-clones so far (at least in my opinion, and I’m sure getting Ice Frog on board helped a lot).

They also announced two new heroes!

The part that really interested me was the match against the OpenAI Shadow Fiend bot. Here’s the Open AI blog post on the bot, and a link to the YouTube video of the match played on the main stage. The match was amazing to watch. The bot executed a perfect creep block, doing better than than pros it was matched up against. The scariest part was watching it animation cancel – and according to their blog post, it’s entirely self-learned behaviour – though whether they learned it from humans or from playing itself wasn’t specifically stated, so it was probably learned from humans. Because it’s a bot, it doesn’t suffer from the same decision paralysis that can hinder humans. The bot just went in and dived past the tier 1 tower without hesitation or concern about whether it’d make it out alive. It knew it would.

The earlier iterations of the bots did stupid things – either stay in base for the entire game, or die to a non-mid tower. Over many iterations, it learned to go to the mid-lane and farm creeps. Then to go for hero kills / towers.

They had two of the developers on the stage who said that the bot basically played a “lifetime” of games against itself in the span of two weeks, and it is now consistently beating the pros. EG’s manager wanted to say that Sumail did win against the bot, but the bot quickly learned from that and adapted, and once it picked up the new strategy, it beat him. I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out of the team – they said they are trying to tackle a 5v5 game now, but the complexity of that is much, much greater. Even in this 1v1, it was quite restricted. No bottle, neutrals, runes, raindrops, shrines, soul ring. The games would go to 10 minutes. If nobody had more kills / towers by then, the winner would be whoever had the most creep kills.

I didn’t take time off work to watch it this year, as I already had time off for Fiji, and I didn’t want to fall too far behind at work. I ended up listening to a lot of games via the Twitch app – though it ate up a lot of my mobile data! I used nearly 8GB last month (yesterday was the last day of the “month” for me, fortunately), chewing through nearly 2GB per day of active listening. A lot of it was in the audio-only mode, with me changing to video mode during one of my lunch breaks. Maybe that’s not normal, as I searched through some other threads, and they all said Twitch shouldn’t use much data in audio-only mode, and it doesn’t even make sense for 4 hours of audio streaming to be 2GB of data. If that were the case, Spotify wouldn’t work, as it would get crazily expensive to listen to music on-the-go.

It’s a different experience listening online, and I probably missed a lot of plays as I was multitasking work at the same time. But I think I got the important stuff, as you can tell from the excitement of the casters whether something big is going down or not. It also takes me a while to adjust to who is playing which hero.

The production team behind this year’s TI did an amazing job, really enjoyed the main event.

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